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Thursday, January 4, 2007

Propitious time for change

Propitious time for change
By Haaretz Editorial

The presidential commission examining the method of government in Israel, headed by Prof. Menachem Magidor, has carried out comprehensive and impressive work. Its most important reccommendation is without a doubt about what not to do: not to move over to a presidential system, but on the contrary, to strengthen the parliamentary one.
Over the last few years, the public debate in Israel has tended to reject the existing system, preferring revolutions instead. But the majority of the 73 experts who participated in the Magidor commission maintain that a presidential system is not suitable for the Israel of today and that the parliamentary system, with all its faults, was and remains the preferred option. The commission's message is clear: Those who want to copy the presidential type of government from the United States must first copy America's rigid constitution and political culture.
The Magidor commission issues recommendations that aim to make the parliamentary system more efficient to strengthen voter confidence in the government. Its suggestions include changing the electoral system to make half of it based on regional representation, raising the electoral threshold to 2.5 percent, requiring a two-year budget instead of an annual one, and passing a law that would prevent a fraudulent party census.
President Moshe Katsav is the first president to appoint a public commission, and he did so in connection with a very important subject. For this, his initiative should be welcomed, and the pall hovering over the president due to the criminal allegations against him should not affect the attitude toward the report. The Magidor report must not be buried in a drawer like so many other commission findings.
The suggested electoral reforms would harm small parties, but there is no choice because only in this way will the country be able to have a stable and more representative political and parliamentary structure. Historic movements and factions, no matter how unique, will have to find some way to unite. This necessary process will apparently require additional time to become accepted in the political world, and will involve bitter disputes. However, the recommendations dealing with the Knesset and the government can and must be implemented without delay.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who put the issue on the national agenda, must now lead the Knesset in adopting the commission's recommendations. For instance, laws that limit the number of ministers to 18 and require confirmation hearings for ministers should be passed as soon as possible. The recommendation that a no-confidence motion should require submission of a proposed alternative government should also be considered. This would change a no-confidence motion from a weekly nuisance to an unusual and significant parliamentary proceeding.
The Knesset would do well to pay a lot of attention to the recommendations dealing with improving its functioning by decreasing the number of committees and the number of MKs in each committee. The MKs should also seriously consider the suggestion to increase the number of workdays from three a week to four. Even if it seems to them that they work fairly hard, the public appears to think otherwise. These recommendations could improve the image of the Knesset and the public confidence in it.
This is a propitious time and a time of goodwill in the political system, and it is understood that the method of government must be changed. The Knesset now faces an important test: Will it take advantage of the opportunity to improve the system of government, or will it miss the opportunity?

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